Psychological tests and job interviews as instruments for employee selection. Why do so many organisations continue to give interviews such prominence?

201505.12
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Petrova Tatyana

Employee selection implies an application of certain techniques in order to identify and appoint a right person for a right job. Spending considerable time and money on a recruitment process, organizations are interested in sound outcomes such as high performance and low turnover among new hires. In this context, validity (especially, predictive validity) and reliability of selection instruments become crucial. In psychometrics, ‘a valid measure is the one which is measuring what it is supposed to measure’, while reliability means the accuracy and consistency of the measurement (Dictionary by Farlex). A number of studies examined selection techniques under these criteria, show that, generally, psychological tests are more valid and more reliable than interviews in predicting job performance (Wilk and Capelli, 2003; Judge, Higgins, and Cable, 2000; Salgado, 1999). For instance, a comprehensive meta-analyses conducted by McDaniel, Whetzel, Schmidt, and Maurer (1994) found that an average validity of interviews was 0.26 . Although this figure is higher than what has typically been assumed, it is still lower than similar estimate for tests: 0,5-0,6 for intelligence tests (Ackerman, 1994 quoted in Salgado, 1999) 0,51 for personality tests (Salgado and Rumbo, 1997 quoted in Salgado, 1999). However, despite the declared advantage of psychological tests as job performance predictor, in practice interviews remain the most popular selection tool. According to Wilk and Capelli (2003) average frequency of using interviews for candidates’ evaluation is 4.61 out of 5, whereas tests show 2.66 rating. Reasons for such prominence are rooted in integrative, flexible, and social nature of interviewing process. Besides, interviews seem to be less costly than tests. Moreover, validity and reliability of interviews can be improved by using some certain ways, which are respectively handy for employers. Detailed discussion of these reasons is provided below. Usually interviews are built around integrative company-specific competences, whereas tests measure isolated, narrow-defined, universal traits and abilities. One could argue that traits’ testing is ample for an effective selection. For instance, there are a considerable number of studies that indicate a high predictive validity of ‘Big Five’ model not only for job performance but even for removed career success (Judge, et al 1999; Hurtz and Donovan, 2000). However it is also known that individuals with similar personal profile can show different work-results, and similar performance level can be achieved by individuals with different sets of personal traits (e.g. Belbin, 1993). The identification of universal traits can be sufficient for those companies oriented on internal talents development. Thus, Wilk and Capelli (2003) found that tests are more relevant selection methods when future job implies extensive training. However, the importance of workforce diversity in modern business (Liff, 2003; Holtermann, 1995) and increasing inclination towards ‘buy strategy’ (Campbell, et al. quoted in Human Resources Wharton, 2005) make competence-oriented interview more attractive for organizations. Compared with tests, which demand a high level of formalization and tend to leave no room for ambiguity and in-process correction, interviews are more flexible. It makes the latter more attractive at least for three reasons.

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  • Firstly, there is a range of inevitable challenges on the basic level of job analyses including informal components of work process, dynamic interdependence between jobs, and various data gathering problems (Ghorpade and Atchison, 1980). These challenges often hinder a development of precise and definitive job descriptions and thus make tests’ standards of formalization unmet. Under these circumstances a less standardized interview seems to be a good compromise.
  • Secondly, a changeable nature of job in modern ‘faster-paced’ business environment (Campbell, et al. quoted in Human Resources Wharton, 2005) claim for a higher adaptability of selection techniques. Some authors argue that due to personal traits stability, psychological tests are universally applicable predictors of job performance trough time and among different occupations (Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, and Barrick, 1999). However, the idea of the ‘best fit’ in contrast to the idea of best personality type (Baron and Kreps, 1999) assumes a specification of selection tools when a job content changes. A new standardized test’s development and creation of a strong interpretation model are both time-consuming and expensive, whereas interview can be adopted without excessive efforts.
  • Thirdly, flexible interview is more attractive for those responsible for selection decisions as it allows managers to exercise desirable autonomy and power (Dipboye, 1997). Unlike other selection procedures, an interview is a social process. Its social nature is a source for both weaknesses and strengths of the technique. Acknowledging potential problems caused by two-ways influence: perception biases (e.g. appearance, non-verbal cues), similarity and primacy effects, halo-effect, interviewer’s hypothesis confirmation strategies and the like (Judge et al, 2000; Baron and Kreps, 1999), — it is important to keep in mind significant advantages of interviews.
  • First of all, it provides a possibility for informational exchange between applicants and organization’s representatives. Apparently, candidates also use the selection process for gathering information, making evaluations about positions, and job previews development (Breaugh and Starke, 2000; Judge et al, 2000; Baron and Kreps, 1999; Suszko and Breaugh, 1986). “Realistic job previews have been shown to facilitate self-selection and to result in greater job satisfaction, higher performance, stronger organizational commitment, reduced ambiguity and stress, and lower turnover” (Baron and Kreps, 1999: p.352). Thus, the level of organization’s ability to communicate its culture, norms, and expectations to potential hires is crucial and undoubtedly strategic issue. In this context, cautiously used interviews are unique and priceless instruments.
  • Secondly, face-to-face conversations provide a possibility for personal exchange. Judge et al (2000) argue that in the interview, under the question-answer surface (can be easily devolved on application blanks) the social dynamic is what really matter. Tacit agenda is simple: “Does the person fit the organizational culture?” ‘Would I be able to work with him or her?” “Do I trust the person?” Interviews by leaving a room for indirect cues and signaling (Judge et al, 2000) allow answering these questions. It is increasingly important in organizations with cooperation culture, where integration to team is crucial for individual performance. Such organizations involve line managers and co-workers into interviewing process in order to build a feeling of commitment to the new hire at the early stage and make an adaptation period more smooth (Baron and Kreps, 1999). All the above, allows to suggest that interviews are so popular as they enabled managers to put dry facts into personal perspective.
  • Thirdly, according to Dipboye (1997) interviews are perceived to be faire by interviewers and interviewees. Probably, the basis for such perception is an active role of both players. Although one could argue that less formalized interviews leave greater possibility for discrimination than tests, many authors agreed that tests can produce disparate outcomes mostly on the basis of race and gender (e.g. Baron and Kreps, 1999).

Statistical discrimination, limitations of generalization because of initial sample characteristics (Baron and Kreps, 1999), time issues (Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, and Barrick, 1999) – are not the full list of sources for procedural inequality. Moreover, negative attitudes towards tests among respondents engendered a number of researches related to test-taking motivation (Arvey, Strickland, Drauden, and Martin, 1990 quoted in Salgado, 1999). Schmit and Ryan’s findings (1993) about influence of situation (personal assessment or anonymous research) on respondents’ self-reports, indirectly point on self-defended attitudes towards tests. Also, Rynes and Connerley, who studied applicants’ beliefs in connection with different selection procedures, found that ability tests received the worse scores in regard to its relationship to job content and, sequentially, fairness (Rynes and Connerley, 1993 quoted in Salgado, 1999). Looking from the employer point of view, a possibility to prepare for a test as well as a risk of social desirability can be considered as unfairness. Not the last reason for interviews’ attractiveness is the fact that it is a relatively cheap technique — the only cost involved is interviewer time. Contrarily, tests are very expensive in both terms: buying or in-house instrument’s development and administration (software, handouts for applicants, time for data processing and interpretation). The cost of recruitment process is double-edge sword as direct spending on selection are backed by sequential costs associated with inefficiency of new hires, employee turnover, and disrupted work relations. Hence, taking into account the danger of a hiring mistake, spending on tests can be justified. However, as has been discussed above, interviews provide the best opportunities for the best person-organization match and thus are more attractive with regard to both: direct and indirect costs. Additionally, this characteristic of interviews makes them wider applicable as firms which exploit ‘low-road strategy’ can afford it. Finally, notwithstanding the ‘conventional wisdom’ that interviews had low validity, recent publications have challenged this conclusion (e.g. Judge et al, 2000). There are certain ways for improving the interview. First of all, structure is a powerful moderator for the technique’s validity and allows increasing it up to 0.57 (Huffcutt & Arthur, 1994 quoted in Judge et al, 2000). Introduction of numerical score components adds to further objectivity (Baron and Kreps, 1999). In order to eliminate the influence of interviewers’ differences trainings for interviewers, panel interviews and the rule ‘one interviewer for all candidates’ have been suggested (Salgado, 1999). Acknowledging that firms often neglect these possibilities (Dipboye, 1997; van der Zee, Bakker, and Bakker, 2002), it is important to keep in mind, that as interviews differ widely in terms of validity and reliability, they enables organizations to choose an apt instrument for each particular case. Concluding on the above, one should admit that tests and interviews could not be considered as homogenous groups of techniques and differ widely within each cluster in terms of validity and reliability. On average, tests demonstrate higher predictive validity, but it is important to keep in mind that this validity is limited by narrow-defined subject and statistically derived norms. At the same time, interviews validity varies significantly between different types of technique (e.g. structured / unstructured interviews). Moreover, recent reviews on this matter suggest positive conclusions about the usefulness of the interview (e.g. Salgado, 1999; Judge et al, 2000). That makes simple academic recipes concerning the methods’ preference unfeasible. In practice, employers vote for interviews, exploiting advantages of the procedure: a possibility to evaluate company-specific competences in a face-to-face interaction, while enjoying significant flexibility and autonomy. Fair due to mutual applicant-interviewer influence, applicable to double task of gathering (candidate focus) and sharing (organizational focus) information, less expensive interviews practically meet Muchinsky’s standards (Muchinsky, 1986 quoted in Fernie, 2005). Moreover, it seems reasonable to suggest, that compared with tests the selection interview more closely and pliably corresponds with such organizational realities as physiological contracting, team-working, culture, and, thus, are better oriented on long-term perspective. However, as the selection process influences powerfully the characteristics of organizations the choice of selection techniques should be well-founded and specific for each firm and each position.


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